“Protest works. Just look at the proof”

It’s astonishing to see how Americans have been conditioned to think that political action and engagement is futile. I’m old enough to have witnessed the reverse, how activism in the 1960s produced significant advances in civil rights blacks and women, and eventually led the US to exit the Vietnam War.

I’m reminded of this sense of despair almost daily in the comments section. Whenever possible action steps come up, virtually without fail, quite a few will argue that there is no point in making an effort, that we as individuals are powerless.

I don’t buy that as a stance, particularly because trained passivity is a great, low cost way to hobble people who have been wronged. I mistakenly relegated an article by Johann Hari in the Independent on this topic to Links, and Richard Kline’s commentary on it made me realize it deserved its own post, so I am remedying that error now.

As Kline observed:

The nut of the matter is this: you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, they give up. As someone who has protested, and studied the process, it’s plain that one spends most of one’s time begin defeated. That’s painful, humiliating, and intimidating. One can’t expect typically, as in a battle, to get a clean shot at a clear win. What you do with protest is just what Hari discusses, you change the context, and that change moves the goalposts on your opponent, grounds out the current in their machine. The nonviolent resistance in Hungary in the 1860s (yes, that’s in the 19th century) is an excellent example. Communist rule in Russia and its dependencies didn’t fail because protestors ‘won’ but because most simply withdrew their cooperation to the point it suffocated.

Americans have cultural norms that work against trying to move the political/social needle. Class and economic aspirations are one of them; protestors are by definition malcontents, and thus presumed losers. Busy successful people obviously have not reason to waste their time this way, right? Another impediment is the weird American fixation with optimism. Talk candidly about how stuffed up things are, and you can be dismissed as being “negative”. Despite how much it is revered in pop psychology and the “how to succeed in business” literature, optimism is not necessarily a good trait for long, hard fought struggles. Those who anticipate that success will come sooner than it does will find their hopes dashed repeatedly. Some may be resilient enough to themselves up and try again, but that isn’t universal (being pessimistic and tenacious is probably a better stance, but our culture does not breed for that).

From Johann Hari:

There is a ripple of rage spreading across Britain. It is clearer every day that the people of this country have been colossally scammed. The bankers who crashed the economy are richer and fatter than ever, on our cash. The Prime Minister who promised us before the election “we’re not talking about swingeing cuts” just imposed the worst cuts since the 1920s, condemning another million people to the dole queue. Yet the rage is matched by a flailing sense of impotence. We are furious, but we feel there is nothing we can do. There’s a mood that we have been stitched up by forces more powerful and devious than us, and all we can do is sit back and be shafted.

This mood is wrong. It doesn’t have to be this way – if enough of us act to stop it. To explain how, I want to start with a small scandal, a small response – and a big lesson from history.

In my column last week, I mentioned in passing something remarkable and almost unnoticed. For years now, Vodafone has been refusing to pay billions of pounds of taxes to the British people that are outstanding….

Many people emailed me saying they were outraged that while they pay their fair share for running the country, Vodafone doesn’t pay theirs. One of them named Thom Costello decided he wanted to organize a protest, so he appealed on Twitter – and this Wednesday seventy enraged citizens shut down the flagship Vodafone store on Oxford Street in protest. “Vodafone won’t pay as they go,” said one banner. “Make Vodafone pay, not the poor,” said another.

The reaction from members of the public – who were handed leaflets explaining the situation – was startling. Again and again, people said “I’m so glad somebody is doing this” and “there needs to be much more of this.” Lots of them stopped to talk about how frightened they were about the cuts and for their own homes and jobs. The protest became the third most discussed topic in the country on Twitter, meaning millions of people now know about what Vodafone and the government have done.

You might ask – so what? What has been changed? To understand how and why protest like this can work, you need some concrete and proven examples from the past. Let’s start with the most hopeless and wildly idealistic cause – and see how it won. The first ever attempt to hold a Gay Pride rally in Trafalgar Square was in 1965. Two dozen people turned up – and they were mostly beaten by the police and arrested. Gay people were imprisoned for having sex, and even the most compassionate defense of gay people offered in public life was that they should be pitied for being mentally ill.

Imagine if you had stood in Trafalgar Square that day and told those two dozen brave men and women: “Forty-five years from now, they will stop the traffic in Central London for a Gay Pride parade on this very spot, and it will be attended by hundreds of thousands of people. There will be married gay couples, and representatives of every political party, and openly gay soldiers and government ministers and huge numbers of straight supporters – and it will be the homophobes who are regarded as freaks.” It would have seemed like a preposterous statement of science fiction. But it happened. It happened in one lifetime. Why? Not because the people in power spontaneously realized that millennia of persecuting gay people had been wrong, but because determined ordinary citizens banded together and demanded justice.

If that cause can be achieved, through persistent democratic pressure, anything can. But let’s look at a group of protesters who thought they had failed. The protests within the United States against the Vietnam War couldn’t prevent it killing three million Vietnamese and 80,000 Americans. But even in the years it was “failing”, it was achieving more than the protestors could possibly have known. In 1966, the specialists at the Pentagon went to US President Lyndon Johnson – a thug prone to threatening to “crush” entire elected governments – with a plan to end the Vietnam War: nuke the country. They “proved”, using their computer modeling, that a nuclear attack would “save lives.”

It was a plan that might well have appealed to him. But Johnson pointed out the window, towards the hoardes of protesters, and said: “I have one more problem for your computer. Will you feed into it how long it will take 500,000 angry Americans to climb the White House wall out there and lynch their President?” He knew that there would be a cost – in protest and democratic revolt – that made that cruelty too great. In 1970, the same plan was presented to Richard Nixon – and we now know from the declassified documents that the biggest protests ever against the war made him decide he couldn’t do it. Those protesters went home from those protests believing they had failed – but they had succeeded in preventing a nuclear war. They thought they were impotent, just as so many of us do – but they really had power beyond their dreams to stop a nightmare.

Protest raises the political price for governments making bad decisions. It stopped LBJ and Nixon making the most catastrophic decision of all. The same principle can apply to the Conservative desire to kneecap the welfare state while handing out massive baubles to their rich friends. The next time George Osborne has to decide whether to cancel the tax bill of a super-rich corporation and make us all pick up the tab, he will know there is a price. People will find out, and they will be angry. The more protests there are, the higher the price. If enough of us demand it, we can make the rich pay their share for the running of our country, rather than the poor and the middle – to name just one urgent cause that deserves protest.

And protest can have an invisible ripple-effect that lasts for generations. A small group of women from Iowa lost their sons early in the Vietnam war, and they decided to set up an organization of mothers opposing the assault on the country. They called a protest of all mothers of serving soldiers outside the White House – and six turned up in the snow. Even though later in the war they became nationally important voices, they always remembered that protest as an embarrassment and a humiliation.

Until, that is, one day in the 1990s, one of them read the autobiography of Benjamin Spock, the much-loved and trusted celebrity doctor, who was the Oprah of his day. When he came out against the war in 1968, it was a major turning point in American public opinion. And he explained why he did it. One day, he had been called to a meeting at the White House to be told how well the war in Vietnam was going, and he saw six women standing in the snow with placards, alone, chanting. It troubled his conscience and his dreams for years. If these women were brave enough to protest, he asked himself, why aren’t I? It was because of them that he could eventually find the courage to take his stand – and that in turn changed the minds of millions, and ended the war sooner. An event that they thought was a humiliation actually turned the course of history.

You don’t know what the amazing ripple-effect of your protest will be – but wouldn’t Britain be a better place if it replaced the ripple of impotent anger so many of us are feeling? Yes, you can sit back and let yourself be ripped off by the bankers and the corporations and their political lackeys if you want. But it’s an indulgent fiction to believe that is all you can do. You can act in your own self-defence. As Margaret Mead, the great democratic campaigner, said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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  1. Francois T

    Thank you very much for posting this Yves.

    Sometimes, I despair for this country.

    Chaos Theory posit that a butterfly wing flap can trigger a hurricane elsewhere. Turns out that 6 isolated women in front of the White House can trigger a change in conscience in a social catalyst that in turn, will change the mind of millions.

    Chaos Theory can have social applications for the greater good.

    My oh my! Who knew?

    Good to remember!

  2. Paul Repstock

    You are so right about the importance of this Yves. A very wise man once counciled me, “One man with courage is a majority.” So it is with anything. Somebody always has to be first!

    This relates so much to the ‘Tank a Bank’ link from yesterday. Even if our small protests appear futile in the grand scheme, there is always a reaction. The ‘man with courage’ mentioned above should read ‘person’, and your tireless efforts certainly qualify your nomination.

  3. T. Rex Bean

    O yes, more of this. I live in Hawaii. The other day, at a forum for a beleaguered politician (one that I support, actually) a teen-ager rose from the audience and said she felt she was impotent, that no one listened to her and that it didn’t matter what she might do, because it would result in nothing and influence nobody. And this politician embarked on a monologue about how she would always stand up for her constituents — blah, blah blah. She — the politician — meant well. And she will, I believe, try to do what she believes is best for those who elected her. But why, why, why, didn’t she tell that kid that first, people younger than her, facing greater obstacles than her, have fought and and struggled for justice and succeeded and two, encourage her to do the same?

  4. Koshem Bos

    Coming off the heavily attended Jon Steward rally on the wall, I am encouraged by the protest. One of my sons is a labor organizer and he protests and is arrested a lot. Another son organized his department’s graduate students demanding a raise in their support. I have done my part as well. However, we will be remiss if we fail to notice that the gay movement and the six women happen in the context of a democratic society.

    We are not a democratic society anymore. The media serves the powerful only (with lip service to Krugmans and Yves Smiths). The rich, with the help of a corrupt Supreme Court, control the country. (Look at Obama, a decent person with good intentions who came in and became enslaved to the banks turning his back to the people.) If one unit of protest was needed in 1965, we need 100 units (whatever this measure is) are needed today to achieve similar results.

    Hari also implicitly assumes societies in progress. As a society, the US manifests strong reactionary forces where about half the population believes in American of the late 19th century or at most the beginning of the 20th. The people that protest most now a day are reactionaries.

    Hari also needs some American history lessons. Johnson was the most progressive president since FDR and Spock was not Oprah, his books helped raise generation of kids.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I think the Spock/Oprah comparison is apt. Both were implicitly trusted by a large segment of the population. The fact that one is a doctor and the other an entertainer says a lot about the devolution of our society, which is a point you make separately.

    2. bookit

      Yes, Johnson was progressive, but he also was deeply invested in the project of Empire. In those days, it still was something of a progressive project. Don’t forget that Republicans Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon cut defense spending whereas Kennedy and Johnson increased it. The antiwar movement Hari writes of also began on the Left, a sort of left-of-New-Deal-Left, and that’s part of why Empire would eventually become a right-wing obsession. Reagan and his successors fully embraced it, and the neocons, many of whom were Democrats in the 1960s, have become its chief apologists. So you and Hari are both right. Johnson was a progressive AND a thug.

  5. vlade

    Now, let me give you a something different perspective on protests.

    Namely all those protesting nuclear missile deployment in western Europe. Do you know why Soviet’s eventually took the missiles they deployed (amongst others) in my country (well before NATO deployed theirs)? Not because of the protesters, but exactly because NATO managed to deploy the short-range missiles despite the protesters.

    Oh, and how about all those intellectuals in 30s praising Stalin’s regime? (I’m not even going to bring in the protest marches in late 20s/30s in Germany…)

    Right to protest is a good thing – but it doesn’t make all protests right, just the same as free speech doesn’t make all said true and beautiful.

    You see, Tea Party in the US IS protest against current US administration and situation too.

    1. DownSouth

      When the idea is a sound one, the cause a just one, and the demonstraton a righteous one, change will be forthcoming.

      –Martin Luther King, Jr., “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom,” Ebony, 16 October 1966

      1. vlade

        when the idea is rubbish, the cause is to f*ck others, and the demonstration is a manufactured one, the change may be coming just the same.

        Just look at the history.

        I agree that to change, people have to get off their butts and do something – even just withdraw the support.

        What I’m pointing out is that often they believe in change for one thing and get another (see Obama for the last significant instance), and that any movement is (relatively) easy to manipulate. That’s speaking from experience – I saw first hand (and, in a microscopic role was involved in) things that happened in 89 with fall of communism, and then I saw what happened afterwards.

        I will also posit that many Tea Party activists believe that their idea is a sounds one, their cause just, and their demonstration righteous. As did a number of people in say 1861.

        1. DownSouth

          What can I say? You have a lot of company in your pessimism.

          In his Fourth Eclogue Virgil announced that some day, the ingenuity of change having been exhausted, the whole universe, by design or accident, will fall into a condition precisely the same as in some forgotten antiquity, and will then repeat, by deterministic fatality and in every particular, all those events that had followed that condition before.

          Alter erit tum Tiphys, et altera quae vehat Argo
          delectos heroas; erunt etiam altera bella,
          atque iterum ad Troniam magnus mittetur Achilles—-

          “there will then be another [prophet] Tiphys, and another Argo will carry [Jason and other beloved heroes; there will also be other wars, and great Achilles will again be sent to Troy.” Friedrich Nietzsche went insane with this vision of “eternal recurrence.” There is nothing so foolish but it can be found in the philosophers.

          As Will and Ariel Durant go on to explain in The Lessons of History:

          History repeats itself in the large because human nature changes with geological leisureliness, and man is equipped to respond in stereotyped ways to frequently occurring situations and stimuli like hunger, danger, and sex. But in a developed complex civilization individuals are more differentiated and unique than in a primitive society, and many situations contain novel circumstances requiring modifications of instinctive response; custom recedes, reasoning spreads; the results are less predictable. There is no certainty that the future will repeat the past. Every year is an adventure.


          Nations die. Old regions grow arid, or suffer other change. Resilient man picks up his tools and his arts, and moves on, taking his memories with him. If education has deepened and broadened those memories, civilization migrates with him, and builds somewhere another home. In the new land he need not begin entirely anew, nor make his way without friendly aid; communication and transport bind him, as in a nourishing placenta, with his mother country. Rome imported Greek civilization and transmitted it to Western Europe; America profited from European civilization and prepares to pass it on, with a technique of transmission never equaled before.

          Civilizations are the generations of the racial soul. As life overrides death with reproduction, so an aging culture hands its patrimony down to its heirs across the years and the seas. Even as these lines are being written, commerce and print, wires and waves and invisible Mercuries of the air are binding nations and civilizations together, preserving for all what each has given to the heritage of mankind.

          1. i on the ball patriot

            DownSouth says; “What can I say? You have a lot of company in your pessimism.”

            You label reality pessimism.

            Said another way; one man’s seeming pessimism is another’s reality. Recognizing the reality is not pessimism it is instrumental to effect a positive change. I would say those in la La Land have far more company than those who see the reality.

            The wealthy elite oppress and exploit you with a powerful range of tools– a cohesive promotional mix if you will — mostly obtained through the hijacking of societal institutions; the now scam, ‘rule of law’ (used to create other tools; the central bank, corporate person hood, the Patriot Act. etc.), economics, academia, the media (especially the media, the term ‘public airwaves’ is a total joke and Mr. Global Propaganda is a REALITY), the military, etc.

            Any resistance needs to recognize the scope of that reality and address it accordingly. To paraphrase MLK;

            When the reality is recognized, the path will be made clear, and the resistance created an effective one, change will be forthcoming.

            A few thoughts …

            1. There is a long and diverse trail of enlightenment or deprogramming from the corporate cultural propaganda if you will. The many are on the beginning of that trail, the few are further along.

            2. Any ‘comprehensive/promotional’ plan of resistance will have to address that range of knowledge and have an action ready proportionate to position on the trail.

            3. There is a major cut between those who believe change can be made within the system and those who do not. Those that do not work within the system are further along the trail of deprogramming than those that do.

            4. Those who believe that change can be made within the system are now mostly upper echelon, old fashioned, Profit Driven Vanilla Greed folks. Many of them must experience the time wasting and resource wasting catalyzing effect of losses at the hands of the scam ‘rule of law’ before they see the light. A pity that they could not just look at the Just Us that they themselves apply to the homeless to see the scam of it all.

            5. There is a cross over point where the middle class and the old fashioned Profit Driven Vanilla Greed folks will have their resources so diminished that they will no longer have an opportunity to effect change, That window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

            6. The Noble lie is a reality. Control Driven Pernicious Greed is ALL NOBLE LIE. The measure of perception must be what they do not what they say.

            7. The battlefield is on the streets of commerce and where the decision makers can be made to feel it. Little rich boy, Jon Stewart rallies (he is a big part of the problem and an integral part of the Mr. Global Propaganda orchestration) are a waste of time.

            8. A hungry snake does not react to philosophy and will not be persuaded to not swallow you whole.

            Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  6. nilys

    I am not so sure that gay rights and the Vietnam war are applicable precedents to the current situation. It is the masses who are usually less tolerant of non-confirming individuals than the elites.

    “… the dominant American majority has long prized still different kinds of freedom … freedom to take any measure against “undesirable” persons in one’s community” wrote a guy named Veysey who looked into this issue in a very obscure book.

    The Vietnam protests were led by students and children of the elites because they did not want to go to war and their parents did not want them to go to war. That problem was easily solved by going with an all-volunteer army.

    In a way, the masses don’t do revolutions or even significant change. Left to themselves, they revolt and riot and indulge in all sorts of self destructive behavior. Only when there is a directing element, which is usually highly-educated and motivated, then revolts bring a significant change. But even before setting off, it always helps to know where you are going. What should any protests be about? Jail the banks executives? Nationalize banks? Close tax loop holes for corporations and wealthy? Where is the “directing element”? So far, it seems that there is a struggle on many fields – in the courts, in the politics and in the public arena – between investors who bought bank manufactured MBS and lost cash and the banks. Once that settled down, would either of the warring parties want a significant change – aside from the twitting at the edges that have already been passed by the congress in the financial reform act?

    1. DownSouth


      I never cease to be amazed at the way your mind works, and how you can so successfully filter out any information that doesn’t conform to your cynical world view.

      For an entirely different view of the student movements of the 60s, which didn’t start with the anti-war protests but with a group of students from Harvard, who then attracted students from other famous Eastern universities, and whose immediate cause was the civil-rights movement in the South, there’s this from Hannah Arendt:

      The basic question is: What really did happen? As I see it, for the first time in a very long while a spontaneous political movement arose which not only did not simply carry on propaganda, but acted, and, moreover, acted almost exclusively from moral motives. Together with this moral factor, quite rare in what is usually considered a mere power or interest play, another experience new for our time entered the game of politics: It turned out that acting is fun. This generation discovered what the eighteenth century had called “public happiness,” which means that when man takes part in public life he opens up for himself a dimension of human experience that otherwise remains closed to him and that in some way constitutes a part of complete “happiness.”
      –Hannah Arendt, Crises of the Republic

      Arendt goes on to explain the great advantages of looking at the world through the prism of “progress,” as opposed to the lens of negativism and defeatism:

      Its great advantage becomes clear as soon as one compares it with other concepts of history—-such as “eternal recurrences,” the rise and fall of empires, the haphazard sequence of essentially unconnected events—-all of which can equally be documented and justified, but none of which will guarantee a continuum of linear time and continuous progress in history. And the only competitor in the field, from which everything else is derived, implies the rather unpleasant certainty of continuous decline. Of course, there are a few melancholy side effects in the reassuring idea that we need only march into the future, which we cannot help doing anyhow, in order to find a better world. There is first of all the simple fact that the general future of mankind has nothing to offer to individual life, whose only certain future is death. And if one leaves this out of account and thinks only in generalities, there is the obvious argument against progress that, in the words of Herzen, “Human development is a form of chronological unfairness, since late-comers are able to profit by the labors of their predecessors without paying the same price,” or, in the words of Kant, “It will always remain bewildering…that the earlier generations seem to carry on their burdensome business only for the sake of the later…and that only the last should have the good fortune to dwell in the [completed] building.”

      However, these disadvantages, which were only rarely noticed, are more than outweighed by an enormous advantage: progress not only explains the past without breaking up the time continuum but it can serve as a guide for acting into the future. This is what Marx discovered when he turned Hegel upside down: he changed the direction of the historian’s glance; instead of looking toward the past, he now could confidently look into the future. Progress gives an answer to the troublesome question: And what shall we do now? The answer, on the lowest level, says: Let us develop what we have now into something better, greater, et cetera. (The, at first glance, irrational faith of liberals in growth, so characteristic of all our present political and economic theories, depends on this notion.) On the more sophisticated level of the Left, it tells us to develop present contradictions into their inherent synthesis. In either case we are assured that nothing altogether totally unexpected can happen, nothing but the “necessary” results of what we already know. How reassuring that, in Hegel’s words, “nothing else will come out but what was already there.”

      I do not need to add that all our experiences in this century, which has constantly confronted us with the totally unexpected, stand in flagrant contradiction to those notions and doctrines, whose very popularity seems to consist in offering a comfortable, speculative or pseudo-scientific refuse from reality. A student rebellion almost exclusively inspired by moral considerations certainly belongs among the totally unexpected events of this century. This generation, trained like its predecessors in hardly anything but the various brands of the my-share-of-the-pie social and political theories, has taught us a lesson about manipulation, or, rather, its limits, which we would do well not to forget.

      1. alek_a

        We demand neither change nor progress as a matter of priciple. We just demand justice. It is simple.

        1. nilys

          I could sign up for this. But what would constitute justice? Change could be a euphemism for justice.

          1. alek_a

            I was being pragmatic.

            The point is that protest needs not be a political endevour. In order to resolve the banks and other perpetrators of fraud, it matters not what the protester’s views are on abortion or the Theory of Evolution. It is not necessary to have discussions on political philosophy in this context.

            Political change is not the issue, although some changes are necessary to start seeing handcuffs finally. The dispensation of justice by the judiciary is a matter of political interpretation of the existsing laws and precedents. The current mainstream idological views influence the making of decisions by the courts. This is a fact that any top laweyer knows. It is only in this forum that “change” can be a part of the protest against the financial oligarchy. That should be the focus of any advanced intellectual discussions in matters of widespread financial fraud, not the political ideology of our times.

      2. nilys

        The idea of moral progress died in the fields of WWI and WWII.

        Arendt ‘s piece is a mixture of philosophy and romanticism, but I would like to see some evidence for her contention. Communism then was what terrorism is now. The US is waging two wars presently. Yet, I don’t see anything on the campus. A couple of years of ago, some congressmen talked about reinstating draft as a means of ending the war. How do you think that would’ve worked? I’ll explain. They thought that if the draft was reinstated, the best and the brightest college students, children of the elite, would have a stake in ending the war. The military suffered from a shortage of troops, leading to multiple deployment of the same personnel over and over, yet the talk about draft was squashed.

        1. Patricia

          Nilys: I am not sure what you are getting at except that this time has its own individual set of difficulties, carrying similarities and dissimilarities to other past critical times. It is not by giving into the impossibilities of the present moment that we will find the possibilities of ways to go forward.

          To call Hannah Arendt mistaken in some of her ideas is understandable, but to say her work suffers from romanticism makes me chuckle. Few people in the twentieth century have looked evil in the face as diligently as she.

          Progress, in it’s specific sense, means “going forward”. If one doesn’t think that one can go forward, then by the inevitability of constant motion, one goes backward. We have no choice except forward or backward. “Sitting on the fence” is an illusion. “Waiting it out” is an illusion. “Leaving it all behind” is an illusion.

          Progress in a cultural evolutionary sense is a different can of worms. I don’t sense that capability in the human heart. However, even there, things have gone forward in some ways, even while other things have gone backward. It is about movement. That is what is relentless.

          1. Birch

            Stasis of civilization has existed too. Egypt survived a very very long period neither progressing nor regressing. China, too, has long periods of stasis in its history.

            But this is not the fate of our civilization. As we stop progressing, regression is rapid because the maintenance on what we have now requires attention and effort.

            Progress doesn’t happen in one direction. It is common to assume once you’ve progressed in one direction successfully that if you continue linearly in the same direction, you will continue to progress. Often, conditions change, and what was once real progress becomes progress in luxury, and subtly turns into advancing decay and regression. That’s where we are now. Progress only continues if we re-evaluate where we want to go according to the lessons we’ve learned and adjust direction accordingly.

          2. Patricia

            Hey, Birch:

            Stasis didn’t exist in Egypt or China. They went up and down, expanded and contracted. They were able to last as a general culture, which is very interesting, but there was turmoil and crises within them, over and over.

            We can say that “western civilization” has lasted a long time, too, but being within it, we more clearly experience the amount of turmoil, with stretches of relative quiet, that naturally occur inside the broad span of any culture. I am supposing that “western civilization” is winding down and the US is acting it’s usual flamboyant aggressive character within it–this time flaming out rather spectacularly.

            Which says little about our own small parts within the character that is the US. We need to act and we need to act with clarity and determination and persistence, to set aside the sweep towards decline as much as possible, to be the best of humans in one of the worst of times. Because I do think we are facing, up ahead, some of the worst of times.

            Now how’s that for sturm und drung? :-}

          3. Birch

            I got the stable idea from Henry George. He used it comparatively, Egypt verses Rome for example. Egypt had a long era of progress, which it eventually codified in strict cultural structure. The idea is that becuase Egypt was culturally relatively homogeneous and isolated, it was able to maintain its status quo much better. We’re talking about thousands of years of fluctuating stasis where art, written language, religion, and social organization at the end of the period looked very much like at the beginning. Our present civilization only has a fraction of that time under its belt, and we look, sound and think very different now than Elizabethan England. Rome did a very rapid (about 80 year) complete change of religion, as have we from Chistianity to Consumerism.

            Anyway, I just found a copy of Polanyi’s “Trade and Market in the Early Empires” so I hope to get a better understanding of this.

          4. Patricia

            “from Christianity to consumerism”, yah. I don’t know much about George or Polanyi. Good hunting!

          5. nilys

            I concede that “romanticism” is not the right word. By “moral progress” I refer to the idea discussed prior to WWI that technological progress will be accompanied by a “betterment” of human inclinations, i.e., the humans will not use the new technology to kill each other. Simple moving forward does not constitute progress, things must get “better”.

            Those who know Hegel better should correct me, but as far as I understand Hegelian “progress” is not a straight line, it is a spiral – everything repeats itself only on “higher” level.

    2. Jim the Skeptic

      nilys says: “The Vietnam protests were led by students and children of the elites because they did not want to go to war and their parents did not want them to go to war. That problem was easily solved by going with an all-volunteer army.”

      Sir, your statement is incomplete and somewhat misleading.

      It it true that the Vietnam protests were led by students and children of the elites because they did not want to go to war and their parents did not want them to go to war.

      Then the law was changed to prevent the use of student deferments to avoid military service. The elite were horrified.

      Very soon after that, we changed to an all-volunteer army.

      The elite have a long history of abusing their poorer fellows, up to and including, seeing them sacrificed in their stead.

    3. stormy

      i agree with you that many have a different sense/perception of freedom; in the end people are driven by many perceptions freedom being one of them and scarcity and abundance being another; the struggle between the power elite, the wealthy and the massess defines the protest, whether it be gay rights, anti war, or the right to make decisions based on profit; the struggle is peace within, peace between and peace among; we all struggle with this and are in different places along the path of the struggle; once we take possession and ego out of the equation there is movement; whether the movement is forward or lateral or backward is a product of the players; i think what we protest now is for a culture based on the concept that we are as strong as the weakest among us and we as a culture create social networks and safety nets to that end which replaces the present culture which is making a profit is the way to make decisions because the consequences will make the weak stronger; simply put, financial institutions and corporations have lost the connection between service and products and profit, they simply make profit on energy, food, health care and access to money; their behavior is emulated by others; what if everyone who has a bank account or credit card, who buys energy in the form of gasoline for autos, who uses the health care system or otherwise consumes, didn’t for one day; say july 1st 2011; what if 100 million people did the same thing on the same day; the struggle has always been and may well be for a long time the masses against the wealthy; the protest against exploitation in whatever form it takes;

  7. Brick

    For every protest that does achieve something there are dozens that don’t. For instance I don’t see the tea party protest going anywhere because the message is confused, unfocused and has things tagged on that people don’t agree with. Every successful demonstration reaches out to key people and if you don’t have a focussed message and pick your place and style of demonstration carefully it will not work.
    What I seem to be hearing today is a message that banks, big business and politicians don’t tend to act in the interests of the general populace. What is needed is incentives for each of these groups to act in a more socially responsible way. Why not tax banks more but pay them to do socially useful things. Why not tax business more if it does not use 5 percent of its profit to benefit the communities it operates in. Why not link politicians pay to key measures like unemployment, homelessness, and the average persons spending power. Focus your message and propose solutions and you are more likely to succeed.
    Next you need to pick your place and style of protest. A lot of successfully protests don’t use violence, sometimes use gimmicks to attract media attention and are in the face of decision makers. Gimmicks which have worked include throwing rotten eggs, tomatoes and flour or depositing things like manure in inconvenient places for decision makers. It can work but you do need to give it some thought.

  8. Dikaios Logos

    I was impressed with Hari’s piece when it first appeared in the links. The story of the Iowa mothers reinforced that what changes minds isn’t clear until after the fact.

    The fatalism and powerlessness of many commenters here has been bothering me for ages, I am glad Yves called them out on this. If you really think nothing can be done and nothing will change, you are a fool for being here. Go pet your cat or work your garden or occupy your mind with matters within your control, don’t wallow in gloom at your computer!

    I share the information I get here widely, hoping that others will see its value. This is trying, I often get treated like the village idiot. But I know the powerful are just like you and me. They pick their noses, scratch their privates, and have trouble raising their kids right (I have a particular C-level bank executive in mind here). The fact that they have succeeded in a great fraud is as much a statement of others’ acquiescence as is it of anyones’ sophistication. If just a few more people were aware of what is discussed here, the powerful would have to adopt a different stance. And if we made ourselves more visible and more vocal, perhaps by protesting, the emotionality of the appeals would be that much more vivid and effective.

    1. attempter

      I’ve never understood the point of going to the effort of commenting only to say, “It’s hopeless. Give up.”

      If it’s sincere, it’s a perverse and contemptible narcissism of cowardice and self-loathing.

      But I imagine they’re often intentional demoralization trolls, or just nihilistic scum making armpit noises.

      Whatever it is, they should be shunned and rejected with all the contempt they deserve.

  9. Maju

    This is a particularly good article: taking action does work. It does not always work and it’s no magic wand, but where reasons abound, the normal thing is that properly motivated action, protest, gradually snowballs and eventually rolls over.

    The gay parade example is excellent but it’s just one of many many things that have been made possible, reality, thanks to collective action. From freedom of speech to gender equality, from suppression of apartheid (or Jim Crow or the most obvious colonialism) to one person one vote. Nearly everything decent in life comes from collective action. Losing faith in the power of protest and disobedience is losing hope in society and Humankind. It is in fact the most pessimist of all attitudes, no matter how decorated it is with frivolity.

    Now, not everybody “is made” to go out to protest every other weekend, indeed. But nearly everybody will at some point join such an act of rebellion. Most of the time the ones leading the movement are numerical minority. That’s unavoidable and the weakest point probably of all struggles.

    Those trust that they had good reason and their action is really necessary. There must be a good deal of coherence, of thoughtfulness and determination, specially in the core group(s), which are the ones initiating the process and also hopefully those that will fill the snowball of content when it forms (and hence becomes rather uncontrollable).

    It’s a beautiful story when that happens. And it is something that is necessary, some times it becomes urgent.

  10. LeeAanne

    Great NY Times op-ed Yves; I missed it and am glad to see it posted here.

    The protests of the 1960s would not be possible in today’s ruling environment. As pointed out in the Hari piece, power feared the people. Power feared the people because there was a free press to publicize and record events now destroyed. It has been destroyed by corporate consolidation, monopoly and foreign ownership. Investigative reporting and the institutions that nurtured and supported it were alive and well.

    The White House press confronted presidents; the press didn’t pander, cower or act as stenographers as they do today.

    No politician would dare refuse a permit for a peaceful demonstration at that time if in fact a permit was required. That is no longer true. The arrogance of power is demonstrated repeatedly across all media in spite of cameras and reporters; the police harass and provoke, restrain and intimidate at peaceful demonstration. They are also known to create incidents for the cameras to blame on demonstrators.

    You can find yourself on any one of a variety of official lists that cannot be challenged because of secrecy laws; there are false arrests like those conducted at the RNC Bush 2004 in New York City by Mayor Bloomberg that result in acquiring a record and a requirement to report it regardless of the merits on a variety of applications affecting licensing and career opportunities.

    The time for denying the depth of fascism in America is over.

    Its reported in the NY Post that a woman in an upper west side Manhattan coffee shop refuses to use Starbuck’s proscribed lingo for ordering a bagel. The police are called, respond, and escort her out. A liberal talk show host laughs.

    1. JEHR

      The thing about protests that scares me is that governments have now become savvy to what to do about them. I’m thinking of the G20 meeting in Toronto: there were probably police posing as protesters (agents provocateurs) in order to infiltrate the peaceful demonstrators. Then there were the hooligans who dressed in black with face coverings who threw rocks and broke windows then changed clothes and melted back into the peaceful protesters. The government spent $1 billion on security and the peaceful protest became a nightmare. There were policemen on bicycles, on horses, on foot and there was no way to get past them. They even left their police cars in the middle of intersections unattended so that they were burnt. I think this act was used so that the police could justify their later actions.

      A great deal of restraint on the part of protesters would be required. I guess if the civil rights movement could make a difference, then a similar movement about justice and financial responsibility could also succeed.

      The anti-war activists would now be in the 70’s! Maybe we should consult them.

  11. craazyman

    that is a thoughtful post indeed, and it brings up many intellectual associations.

    succesful examples of social change in civil rights and women’s rights drew on expansion of the boundaries of the collective tribe, provoking an inclusion of the outcast group into the tribal collective.

    Financial crises by definition don’t lend themselves to the destruction through protest of such a constricted boundary, simply because the boundary isn’t tribal in nature. The victims are atomized and scattered. It’s more akin to the labor movement, which was only made successful through violence and resistance, and not entirely through a reference to an obvious moral transgression.

    In the case of the banksters, I’ve been a bit surprised that there hasn’t been more protest by those who really do have power — towns, cities, corporations, etc. — who could pull their business from the bankster firms. The protest against apartheid in South Africa during the 1980s through divestment is an apt analogy.

    However, as of yet, there has been no ability among these power holders to see themselves as empowered victims and agents of potential moral progress. Imagine if a group of institutional investors joined together to divest themselves of the stocks of bankster firms and another group of universities, hospitals, endowments, etc. joined together to divest of the stocks of bankster firms.

    That would make the news. And I suspect would be very effective in changing widespread social and political perceptions. But I also suspect that blind self interest and a corrupted consciousness keeps this from happening.

    And to what end? and toward what policy?

    The moral clarity of oppression based on race or gender of sexual preference is not ambiguous to the sentient consciouness. Stop the killing, stop the boming, stop the murders. These are simple calls to action.

    But what call to action for financial reform? It becomes a hairball of policy, which must be filtered through the political system, with all its compromises and conduits. And so one is almost back to square one.

    I agree with the spirit of the post, that a new politics is necessary, which may well be provoked by protest of some kind. But what’s needed is a new economics too, which is less straightforward.

    1. Patricia

      There are so many things that we could be protesting, things that overlap. It’s not that there’s nothing specific to protest but rather that there’s so much to protest and we haven’t been doing it.

      How about campaign and lobby reform? Real reform in these two areas would immediately allow better governmental regulation in the economic sphere.

      How about “Jail for Fraud”? “Our government on Trial” “Justice for Big Corps” “Stop Taking our Jobs” “Keep Us in Our Homes” “We Want Rule of Law” “Economic Justice for All”. Etc.

      Or “End Our Wars Now” same as in the 60s, good grief. If we did that, we would have a more money to address our economic fraud. “Stop torture of any sort” “No free killing for the President” “No Secrets in Government” “Forgive Child Soldiers” etc.

      And I love rotten tomatoes and eggs. And plops of dog poop with a tooth-pick/note attached.

      But it takes time and persistence. And we have to fight against a bought-media now, so much protesting that is already being done across the nation isn’t noticed anywhere. Still, if enough of us did it and did it, on and on and on, we could make a difference. I’m sure of it. If there was no fear of its power, the FBI wouldn’t have bothered to arrest the demonstrators in MN and Chicago a couple of months ago.

      By the way, thanks so much for remembering Hannah Arendt! I bought a bunch of her books for my daughter for Christmas.

  12. Yearning to Learn

    excellent post.

    a few thoughts:
    1) I think we need more posts like this. use the “Karl Rove” strategy against them. If we keep repeating the idea that individual action can make profound change especially when combined into a collective, then people may start to believe it.

    2) I myself fall into the “nothing I do matters” camp far too often. for instance, for the first time since I’ve been 18 I considered not voting at all. this article makes me rethink this idea.

    3) I feel that there is a mass of anger under the surface, but people don’t have a trigger around which to rally. The concepts of the financial destruction may be overly complex for people to understand and fight against. in Vietnam you could be against “the war” and with gay rights against “discrimination”, but what are we against? we need an elevator speech and a person around whom we can rally.

    I think Obama has destroyed more hopes than he could possibly have believed. People thought they were voting and acting for “change” only to see they were fooled. Likewise, now the Tea Partiers are about to see that their anger has also been co-opted. this is in part what causes people’s negativism.

    I don’t think we’re ready for protests… YET. but the two party system is alienating more and more people.

    but we need a person who can electrify the populace, and make us see that the war is US (the people) versus THEM (the political leaders and corporations).

    right now our leaders have been effective at confusing the people about the teams. they’ve convinced many of us that the teams are republicans vs democrats, or red vs blue, or gay vs straight, or white vs black, and ESPECIALLY rich vs poor.

    1. i on the ball patriot

      Yearning to Confuse says:“right now our leaders have been effective at confusing the people about the teams. they’ve convinced many of us that the teams are republicans vs democrats, or red vs blue, or gay vs straight, or white vs black, and ESPECIALLY rich vs poor.”

      Yes, ESPECIALLY rich vs poor, don’t get confused by those fake teams. We all know that outrageously greedy income spreads and asset wealth have absolutely nothing to do with the present problem.


      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

      1. DownSouth

        i on the ball patriot,

        Comments like this hearken back to Louis Farrakhan when he waxed on about the white devils, or Malcolm X when he blasted Martin Luther King, Jr. as being “just a twentieth-century or modern Uncle Tom or religious Uncle Tom.”

        Reverend King had an excellent sense of where he stood in all this:

        I started thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency made up of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, have been so completely drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation, and, of a few Negroes in the middle class who, because of a degree of academic and economic security, and because at points they profit by segregation, have unconsciously become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up over the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. This movement is nourished by contemporary frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination. It is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incurable “devil.” I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need not follow the “do-nothingism” of the complacent or the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. There is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I’m grateful to God that, through the Negro church, the dimension of nonviolence entered our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, I am convinced that by now many streets of the South would be flowing with floods of blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss us as “rabble-rousers” and “outside agitators” those of us who are working through the channels of nonviolent direct action and refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes, out of frustration and despair, will seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies, a development that will lead inevitably to a frightening racial nightmare.
        –Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”

    2. Birch

      We can rally around inequality – the rapidly growing gap between rich and poor. This is the basis of most of our problems, and the ultimate reason that progress turns to regress in a civilization.

  13. leroguetradeur

    Protest does sometimes work in the sense that it realizes the goals of the protesters, or at least some of their goals, or at least, it changes something seriously.

    But, it is content neutral. Its value and progressiveness depends on the moods which animate the crowd being progressive and life enhancing. Which, just think a little about history, they are not always, and not for long.

    So before you advocate and applaud protest, consider that what you are applauding now may cease to be the aims of the protesters in a short while, and that in other periods, quite dark aims have surfaced out of protests.

    The thinking and cautious person with any knowledge of history will, when confronted with a large scale protest movement, want to stay well away from it.

    In the end, the tedious process of organizing and voting is the only safe way of getting things done. Democracy is something which we need to have most faith in when we are most tempted to think it has failed. That’s the dangerous time, that is when madness emerges.

    Remember, almost all revolutions, the English Revolution was a notable exception, end in mass murder.

    1. Tom Crowl

      You have a point… but those democratic forms must be efficacious. Frustration has its limits…

      Capability ENABLES Responsibility!

      “A Citizen’s responsibility in an area is directly proportional to his or her ability to have an effect. Without improvement in mechanisms of meaningful involvement, we will see a continued growth in apathy, frustration and ultimately a resort to less healthy forms of expression.”

      Personal Democracy: Disruption as an Enlightenment Essential

      Actually facilitating and encouraging networked citizen lobbying… most essentially conditioned on and liberated by… making an online political ‘micro-transaction’ easily feasible for the User… (without burdening it with transaction costs)…

      will catalyze a network of accounts that, in turn facilitates opportunities for enormously reducing the costs of campaigning while bringing candidate selection closer to the people directly.

      The Commons-dedicated Account*

      *A self-supporting , Commons-owned neutral network of accounts for both political and charitable monetary contribution… which for fundamental reasons of scale must allow a viable micro-transaction (think x-box points for action in the Commons). The resultant network catalyzes additional functionality for co-ordination of other ‘social energy’ utilization. (If desired, It’s also the most neutral and ultimately politically viable method for the public finance of elections.)

      Has just been GRANTED A PATENT by USPTO for its groundbreaking mechanism for political/charitable contribution!!!

      LinkedIn http://www.linkedin.com/in/culturalengineer

      Demo & FAQ http://www.Chagora.com

      P.S. It can make great return for founding investors but this is predicated on terms for predetermined buy-out by agreement with it’s User-base/Owners at appropriate stage… I’m hoping that if this model proves practical that it could serve as a pathfinder for certain other businesses that ultimately become established landscapes. I think its a necessary adjustment to Capitalism for mature enterprises.)

      I look forward to the day that USEFUL financial innovation will find some support.

      (Sorry to be so relentless and one tracked… I’m sort of sick of it too… but it was either Rose Kennedy or Eunice Shriver or someone in that crowd who once said: “To get anything worthwhile done you have to be relentless!” I think that’s true.)

    2. DownSouth

      Leroguetradeur said: “Remember, almost all revolutions, the English Revolution was a notable exception, end in mass murder.”

      Simply not true. Amongst the wave of democratic revolutions were the following:

      • Hungarian revolution in 1956
      • Overthrow of Greek junta in 1974
      • Overthrow of Portuguese autocracy in 1974
      • Transition to democracy in Spain in 1975
      • Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s
      • Ouster of the Argentinean junta in 1982
      • Fall of the military dictatorship in Brazil in 1985
      • Expulsion of the dictator Fernando Marcos in the Philippines in 1986
      • Fall of the autocrat Chun Doo Hwan in South Korea
      • Collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire in the late 1980s and early ‘90s
      • Replacement of the apartheid regime in South Africa in 2003
      • Fall of Slobodan Milosevicz in 2003
      • “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003
      • “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2005

      As Jonathan Schell has noted, most “tended to look no longer at the French, Russian, or Chinese models of revolution but rather at one another or the American Revolution, which suddenly recovered international attention and respectability. All were largely nonviolent, deliberately forgoing revolutionary violence, not to speak of terror.”

      1. leroguetradeur

        Yes, this is correct, or at least its partly correct – not altogether sure all of these count as revolutions in the usual sense, but there are enough undeniable counter examples to suggest something quite different started to happen in the last half or third of the last century. I was thinking of the classic Bolshevik, Maoist or French Revolutions. But its true that something more than protest but rather less than revolution did bring down a lot of authoritarian regimes, without the previous concomitants, in the last part of the last century.

        Maybe there is hope?

    3. attempter

      I knew it wouldn’t be long before I had occasion to use this quote somebody alerted me to not long ago, from Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”:

      “… And here were these freemen assembled in the early morning to work on their lord the bishop’s road three days each–gratis; every
      head of a family, and every son of a family, three days each, gratis, and a day or so added for their servants. Why, it was like reading about France and the French, before the ever memorable and blessed Revolution, which swept a thousand years of such villany away in one swift tidal-wave of blood–one: a settlement of that hoary debt in the proportion of half a drop of blood for each hogshead of it that had been pressed by slow tortures out of
      that people in the weary stretch of ten centuries of wrong and
      shame and misery the like of which was not to be mated but in hell.
      There were two “Reigns of Terror,” if we would but remember it and consider it; the one wrought murder in hot passion, the other
      in heartless cold blood; the one lasted mere months, the other had
      lasted a thousand years; the one inflicted death upon ten thousand
      persons, the other upon a hundred millions; but our shudders are
      all for the “horrors” of the minor Terror, the momentary Terror,
      so to speak; whereas, what is the horror of swift death by the axe,
      compared with lifelong death from hunger, cold, insult, cruelty,
      and heart-break? What is swift death by lightning compared with death by slow fire at the stake? A city cemetery could contain the coffins filled by that brief Terror which we have all been so diligently taught to shiver at and mourn over; but all France could hardly contain the coffins filled by that older and real Terror — that unspeakably bitter and awful Terror which none of us has been taught to see in its vastness or pity as it deserves.”

      It’s always laughable how the defenders of the system’s mass murder and infinite robbery make such a fetish of the vastly smaller excesses of revolutions, which excesses are mostly provoked by the criminals’ own attempts to regain what they originally stole.

      And by now all defenses of the definitively discredited system of representative pseudo-democracy are just defenses of corporate tyranny itself. That’s the essence of the neoliberal game plan. Believers in sham “democracy” are just another kind of astroturfed herd.

      1. leroguetradeur

        “It’s always laughable how the defenders of the system’s mass murder and infinite robbery make such a fetish of the vastly smaller excesses of revolutions, which excesses are mostly provoked by the criminals’ own attempts to regain what they originally stole.”

        Right. That is what happened in the Ukraine in the early thirties, isn’t it? It was excesses mostly provoked by the khulak’s own attempts to regain what they originally stole? Wake up!

        1. attempter

          You’re making my argument for me. The totalitarian elitism of the Stalin regime was the entrenched system itself. It had nothing to do with the Russian Revolution, which started being hijacked way back in October 1917.

          1. leroguetradeur

            No, the various campaigns of mass murder were an essential part of the Russian, French and Chinese revolutions. Their early phases also contained such things, just on a smaller scale from the scale of what we later came to know as the terror phase.

            You can always deny this, by claiming that the terror or mass murder phase was not ‘really’ the revolution, that it had got hijacked, and that what was ‘really’ going on was the old regime. The problem with this argument is how often it seems to happen.

            If you are reduced to arguing that revolutionary violence is productive, small, justified, attractive because you redefine all the bad aspects as being due to the revolution being hijacked, you are not making the case for revolutionary violence being a small part of a successful strategy. You are making the case for revolutionary violence being ineffective and unproductive and provoking an exaggerated return to the old regime’s supposed violence.

            The problem with your approach is, it offers a romantic infatuation with violent mass movements which is not justified by their actual historical outcomes.

            As Russell said, democracy seems like the worst possible system, until you compare it with the alternatives. My view would be, work through the electoral process. If you cannot convince enough people to take your point of view, focus on education and persuasion. If the problem is bad enough, sooner or later you will get through to enough people, and if you have a system in which people vote, you will produce change.

            If you really cannot do this, you are screwed anyway, because mass movements of revolutionary violence are never going to get you anyplace you want to be anyway.

          2. Yves Smith Post author


            You’ve been trying to set up a straw man of revolutionary violence. Go back and read the post. This is about protest. Talking about “revolutionary violence” is an awfully convenient way to tar all protestors, now isn’t it?

          3. attempter

            I’ll try one more time arguing with someone who refuses to understand simple concepts.

            The concepts and distinctions are:

            1. [A.] System violence vs. [B.] revolutionary violence.

            2. [C.] A revolution vs. [D.] its subsequent hijacking and transoframtion into just another tyrannical system [1A].

            So what have you done in three comments? You started out with the first distinction, and claimed the latter [1B] is somehow qualitatively worse than the former [1A], even though it is quantitatively far more mild.

            When I pointed out the rational and moral depravity of this position, you switched to falsely representing a calcified post-hijacking system [2D/1A] as revolutionary violence [1B].

            When I pointed out that error, you now revert to a modification of your first fraud. You’re still trying to smear together [1B] and [2D/1A], and you more openly claim that [1B] is somehow worse than [1A] even though you now sort of admit that it’s quantitatively less than normal system violence.

            So the conclusion we must draw from this performance has to be that, to use your own word, you romanticize the corporate system and the status quo, take them on faith as the best of all possible worlds, that at the very most maybe they need a little tweaking which you claim against all the evidence can be accomplished through the “electoral system”, and that at all costs we mustn’t do anything to rock the boat beyond that.

            There’s your version of Corporate Romanticism, unfortunately a very common position among today’s liberals.

            In closing I’ll thank you again for another slow, fat one right down the middle. “Democracy seems like the worst possible system, until you compare it with the alternatives.”

            I agree completely – democracy, i.e. real democracy, direct democracy, true participatory democracy, most of all economic democracy.

            We, of course, have nothing remotely like this. “Representative” pseudo-democracy, the neoliberal scam, inverted totalitarianism as Wolin called it, is one of those discredited, tyrannical alternatives your own quote warns us against.

            So I’ll happily agree with you and say Yes, let’s act upon the wisdom you cite. That means we need democracy. That means we need to completely rid ourselves of this criminal system.

  14. moebius

    Protest movements that have a clear truth behind them succeed. HR 3808 was vetoed.

    We can speculate about what Elizabeth Warren spoke about with Obama that morning. They discussed the likelihood that Obama would face a bipartisan and successful impeachment effort if his signature was affixed to that bill. The people at the top of our government are all successful players of the oft-times brutal political game. Elizabeth Warren ideological power base would have led her to join the impeachment effort back in the Republican party.

  15. Justicia

    “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
    — Alice Walker

    Thank you, Yves, for being a beacon of light in the darkness that has fallen. Excellent Op Ed.

  16. Dan Duncan

    Baby Boomers invoking the halcyon protests of Vietnam yore, and the like, should STFU.

    Seriously. Unless the Boomers are going to organize a protest against Boomer-Involvement-In-Any-Facet-of-Public-Life, then please…just shut up.

    We don’t have a problem caused by the Left or the Right…although Boomers are more than happy to have us believe this. This is a problem caused by the most feckless, useless, selfish and corrupt generation since another generation of Entitled Boomer Brats donned togas in Ancient Rome.

    God, is there anything more cliche and nauseating than this group of Boomer-Morons putting on their Hefty-Sized blue-jeans, and their “extra-snug”, puke-inspired tie-dyes to protest against the very system they created?

    Please…Boomers…for the love of God, just…go…away. It’s over. You blew it. Now put down your Joan Baez…and repeat after me:

    “The Times They Are a Changin'”.

    What you’ve done is just
    “Blowin’ in the Wind”.

    “If I Had a Hammer”
    [I’d smash every Pete Seeger album to bits].

    “If I Can Dream of a Better Land”,
    the Boomers would retire to a Boomer Commune.

    “Imagine” a world without Boomers in public life.
    I wonder if you can.

    “He Ain’t Heavy.”
    Then he sure as hell ain’t no Boomer.

    And the curtain call concludes with the Boomer version of this “Land is Your Land”:

    As I was walking
    a ribbon highway
    I saw above me
    an endless skyway
    I saw below me
    a golden valley
    This land was made for you and me.

    And if you’re not a Booomer,
    This Land is NOT your land.
    This land is MY land.
    From California, to the New York Island
    From the Redwood forests
    to the gulf stream waters
    This land wasn’t made for you,
    it was made for me.

    1. i on the ball patriot

      Dan, good comment, a lot of truth here … points to the depth of the societal programming and the size of the effort that will be required to change it. Being stripped of much of their promised goodies will heighten the Booomers awareness, help to attenuate their wealth adoration, and make them a little more accepting of reality.

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    2. craazyman

      Dan asks God:

      “God, is there anything more cliche and nauseating than this group of Boomer-Morons putting on their Hefty-Sized blue-jeans, and their “extra-snug”, puke-inspired tie-dyes to protest against the very system they created?”

      I admit I’m not God. But if I were God, I’d probably say:

      “Yes, Dan, there is. Each August, Mankind, that eternal fountain of sin and confusion, seems to believe that the Dallas Cowboys will win the Super Bowl. It never fails. Except each year, they do. They fail, that is, to win the Superbowl. This year, for example, they are 1 win and 5 losses. You’d think mankind would learn, but no, they are a stiff-necked people, as my prophets have said-eth.”

      ho ho

    3. Birch

      One bright morning, I went out walking,
      Was a sign, said “Private Propetry”
      On the back side, it didn’t say nothing.
      This land is made for you and me.

      –Original verse from the Woody Gutherie song. No one seems to sing it, though. I may have changed a word or two inadvertently, but oral history is a good thing.

  17. ken matthews

    This country runs on money,not principle.So don’t fight it,join it.Let us set up a national movement to stop paying mortgages that are underwater.Thw principle will be simple:banks and the rich get bailouts despite their part in the mortgage mess.now there will be a national movement of angry citizen victims who create a mortgage payment revolt.The logic makes sense.Above all,the ruling elite does not care about the voters’ views on non-monetary issues.They care about money.And a movement to match Fed bailouts of banks with a national movement to suspend mortgage payments will hit them on their own turf.If enough people support this movement for Financial Fairness,the ruling elites will be stymied.More foreclosures will hit the banks that caused the problem and will reach a point where Government has to obey the will of the disenfranchised majority.No bailouts for banks without bailouts for citizens.

  18. Sy Krass

    Watching Dick Army on Christian Amanpour…he looks like he is turning into an Ooompa loompa. Protest is great if it leads to something constructive… protesting “don’t cut my (fill in the blank)” is tatamount to saying “let’s let the deficit skyyrocket and go on to the inevitable mad max economy.” noting that Mel Gibson is already there…seen any of his mad rants lately? HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

    swirling the drain with humor,
    Sy Krass

      1. Sy Krass

        Oompa loompas are those midgets with orange faces on Willy Wonka & the chocolate factory – a little creepy and just slightly before my time.

  19. tz

    I think the lady doth protest too little.

    I think I’ve posted that everyone should close their accounts at the abusive (to depositors!) TARP banks and find a local credit union or bank. Anyone want to start it?

    Many states have ballot initiatives, but instead we want the rock-concert tea-party (or the leftward equivalent) gatherings that are more sound and fury.

    You can read the Reverend Martin Luther King’s: “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. Or simply note where it was written. And by whom.

    You can’t have cold secular zeal. You can’t have objective injustice against relative or subjective standards. If you want to keep morality fuzzy you are trying to build on squish wet mud. You can’t call the banksters or the system evil or even unjust against a nonexistent standard. It requires some emotional hellfire preaching, not erudite analysis, but it has to come from the heart, and for that you need a heart as well as a brain.

    Also, the leadership if no one else must be willing to engage in civil disobedience and suffer the consequences. And not devolving into vandalism and anarchy. The only two groups I can think of today are some pro-lifers and some environmentalists, but don’t you call both of them extreme and radical at the same time you are calling for a pulled-punch protest?

    And it requires fortitude and perseverance. One protest can be ignored. It has to continue until it hurts (on both sides). Everyone will go to one gathering. Who will stand in front of the store for hours gathering petitions? Who will march weekly or keep being arrested? Few if any.

    The above are just the traditonal virtues of piety, justice, courage, prudence, temperance, fortitude, and perseverance.

    I can go back, but I think I remember a post saying there was a right to the cardinal sin of lust – so are greed, envy, gluttony, and sloth not also fundamental human rights?

    We are all collections of both, but both tend to be habits that require practice or abstainence to be strengthened or weakened respectively. “Stop the banksters so you can be the couch-potato” isn’t very good.

    You can only win by taking first the moral high ground. But few today really want to do it – at best saying Augustine’s prayer – “make me chaste – but not just yet”.

    A virtuous people would not tolerate what is going on. A vicious people cannot be made to act even to prevent their own harm.

    So if you really wish to succeed, you must call people first to virtue, then to apply it in the instance.

    1. attempter

      True and eloquent. This is most of all the final moral conflict, which shall decide if humanity continues to exist in its necessary aspiration toward fairness and justice, or whether that dies off the earth forever, to leave behind nothing but toxic ashes.

      (I’ll add to your account, it won’t be won with wonkery and technocracy either.)

  20. Jim Haygood

    Too few people will be protesting next Wednesday, when the Federal Reserve announces an unprecedently brazen monetary fraud.

    To its credit, Bloomberg has been running a steady menu of anti-QE2 editorials. Excerpts from the latest one, by gold fund manager John Hathaway:


    Oct. 29 (Bloomberg) — The world’s monetary system is in the process of melting down. We have entered the endgame for the dollar as the dominant reserve currency, but most investors and policy makers are unaware of the implications.

    The only questions are how long the denouement of the dollar reserve system will last, and how much more damage will be inflicted by new rounds of quantitative easing or more radical monetary measures to prop up the system.

    The prospects for an orderly unwinding of the extreme posture of global monetary policy are zero. Bernanke, Jean- Claude Trichet and Mervyn King, his counterparts in Europe and the U.K. respectively, are huddling en masse upon the most precarious perch in the history of monetary affairs. These alleged guardians of monetary stability, in their attempts to shore up the system, have simply created the incinerator for paper money. We are past the point of no return. Quantitative easing may well become a way of life.

    The breakdown of the monetary system will be chaotic. When inflation commences, it will be highly disruptive. The damage to fixed-income assets will seem instantaneous. Foreign-exchange markets will become dysfunctional. The economy will become even more fragile and unpredictable.



    Let’s all burn some worthless ‘legal tender’ Federal Reserve Notes in front of the Eccles Building next Wednesday, as this plutocratic criminal gang of fraudster fools pronounces the dollar’s death sentence.

    Human freedom cannot flourish when the means of exchange is erected on a deceptive foundation of chicanery and fraud.

  21. macstibs


    On February 15th, 2003 and in the weeks after, TENS of MILLIONS of people all around the globe PRE-EMPTIVELY PROTESTED the Iraq War.

    Almost eight years later, and we’re STILL there.

    Wake up FFS.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The tens of millions protesting weren’t in the US, which was planning to prosecute the war. There was a protest in NYC, but from what I could tell, not terribly well attended (I was in Sydney at the time), it appeared to be in the ten thousand range, although the authorities did impede getting to the protest area (near or at the UN).

  22. Paul Tioxon

    What ever is accomplished here with yr NC site or elsewhere, as the Rally for Sanity, it shows people coming together for a purpose that is not trivial in nature. There is more hard political work being done across the country and the world that is not revealed by a focus on the big men theory of how history is made. This fabrication is a counter revolutionary bromide that promotes learned helplessness by demanding that real change only can come from a heroic leader.

    People who have witnessed social change in America know better, as do readers of history. While there are still those who are waiting for Jesus to come back and save them, while they are waiting for Superman to change into his costume and fly to the rescue, there are many who are taking direct action, doing it themselves, and carving out a piece of history all by themselves, adding people as co- workers and/or admiring imitators and producing significant changes that are measurable improvement to democracy, prosperity, and a peaceful civil life.
    Yves, I have seen you make more than passing reference, more than once to other web sites to inform us, empower us and relieve us that we are not alone and isolated in our thoughts and actions. This crisis is far from over, its consequences far from politically resolved. You are providing a what is a necessary if not sufficient component, to the needed radical change of the corrupting business practices and their political protection within our Republic.
    Protesting, writing, arguing, organizing, voting, screaming, cursing, donating, publishing, broadcasting, blogging, the need for reform, the need for political change, the need for criminal prosecution, the demand for power over the control of our lives in the face of the limits of what those in power and with all of the privileges willfully impose on us against our will, contrary to our own laws and democratic heritage can not be more urgent than it is right now.

  23. Gordon

    To pick up on Hari’s comments on Vodaphone, here’s an idea.
    We all know that the banks have violated the terms of the pooling and servicing agreements, thanks to Yves’ investigative work. We know, thanks to Yves, that they have violated the IRS rules on how REMICs are supposed to operate, thereby exposing them to back taxes.
    Now, we citizens are required to keep little receipts from charities if we itemize our charitable contributions. The IRS has on several occasions demanded to see mine, and I dutifully produce them (even those for $100 or so), thus far resulting in no claims for back taxes. With literally billions of back taxes, interest and penalties sitting on the table, why don’t we launch a movement demanding that Obama, Geithner and the IRS go over to the banks, audit their RMBS trusts, and collect all the back taxes, interest and penalties? Why can’t the banks keep their receipts, i.e., the promissory notes which should have been assigned and reassigned? It’s like endorsing a check, yet they couldn’t bother to do that. They have avoided paying corporate taxes on all the income from all those millions of mortgages. At the end of the day, we just might reduce the deficit a bit. The banks just might have to be broken up. But this is a simple concept–we bailed you out once, and you cheated on your taxes and handed out big bonuses as a way of thanking the taxpayers. Remember that the government prosecuted Al Capone, not for violating all the laws on prohibition, but for lying on his taxes. If it worked for Al, it should work for the bankers. Try it, Mr. President. The people just might respond positively.

  24. Anonymous Jones

    I loved Richard’s comment, and I’m glad Yves highlighted it in a separate post.

    Someone I like once asked, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true or is it something worse?”

    I don’t fucking know.

    But I have a good idea that everything anyone does ends in failure and insignificance in the vast context of time.

    So what?

    All we have is today and a little time after that.

    The reality of our own impotence is more meaningless than the meaninglessness of everything else. Focusing on it is the worst possible use of anyone’s time.

    So fuck that, fuck that, and fuck that.

    If it’s within the realm of possibility, try.

    Seize what you have and make this little gift worth it.

    Or don’t. Whatever…

    1. i on the ball patriot

      Silver Avenger …

      Then out spake elder senior,
      The avenger now first rate,
      “To every man who has been screwed
      Death cometh soon or late,
      When age compels your exit,
      Go not in vain say I,
      With careful aim aforethought,
      Avenged in glory you can die …

      Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      In the long run we are all dead. The human enterprise ends in failure. Yet we all go on despite that.

      In the Indian epic Mahabharata, Yudhisthira goes looking for his missing brothers, who went searching for water. He finds them all dead next to a pond. In despair, but still parched, he is about to drink, but a crane tells him he must answer some questions first. The last and most difficult: “What is the greatest wonder of the world?” Yudhisthira answers, “Day after day, hour after hour, countless people die, yet the living believe they will live forever.” Yudhisthira does get a bit of a break, since after some further discussion, the Lord of Death revives his brothers.

      As Camus said in The Myth of Sisyphus, “Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.”

      1. i on the ball patriot

        Imagination is a choice. The human enterprise may morph into cosmic bliss instead of failure depending on the choices we make today.

        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

      2. KingBadger

        Not everyone goes on despite the inevitability of death. Hundreds of thousands of people kill themselves every year, while many more attempt it or sink into despondency and inaction. Living structures are unconsciously driven by DNA/RNA to keep on doing all they can to survive, yet humans have evolved far enough to be able to contemplate and carry out suicial acts (lemmings who jump off cliffs are not trying to kill themselves of course; they are migrating across water to pastures new). For the several thousand or so who will kill themselves in the next 24 hours, going on just doesn’t seem to be worth it.

  25. John

    Yves, you are becoming more and more radical and we love you for that.

    “Communist rule in Russia and its dependencies didn’t fail because protestors ‘won’ but because most simply withdrew their cooperation to the point it suffocated.”

    It is easier to withdraw your cooperation and make yourself less vulnerable to a system than it is to invent an entirely new one.

    I suggest that people read Dmitry Orlov re this.
    Russians had an alternate economy that allowed them to survive and eat.

    Google “The Alternate Economy” and “Club Orlov”
    for an insight into this.

  26. El Snarko

    BRAVO Yeves!!! This is actually one of your best comments ever!What is it with this obsession with optimism? I once worked for an outfit that seriously considered hiring “Up With People” drones as a sales force. Gag!Where is the meritocracy when drug companies hire cheerleaders, of both genders as detail people? How sane is it to be inappropriately cheery under all conditions? Why does management like this so much? The bottom line appeal is that those who can eat a (^%$(*& sandwhich and smile are prepared to do vast amounts of unpaid overtime because well…just because. It is now bad form to expect fair value for your time, although during business hours it MUST be sold as dearly as possible.
    This leads to the obvious lack of emotional authenticity and amounts to a use of psychic disturbance to short union activity of higher job expectations.In the US people have such thick calluses on their knees they dont even know it. They have been kneeling before the throne of “Buy More” since Reagan and have forgotten how tall the actually are. Our forebears once faced double grapeshot at Getteysburg, stormed the cliffs at Normandy, stormed capitalism during the sitdown strikes, learned trades at night school and prospered despite the original robber barrons.Are we capable of a fraction of that action? The fuse is now lit. Something has to happen and in the next six years or we are….well not ourselves.
    Wow. I should grin and bear it???

  27. Paul Repstock

    It is only from the depths of dispair that people rise above themselves to a socially concious decision that their individual survival is not relevant. So long as there is hope that they as individuals have some possibility of achieving greater wealth or power they cannot be motivated and will support a conservative, status quo mindset.

    We may have arrived at a tipping point, where the individual is so fenced in and shackled by regulation and finances that they have no hope.

    Perhaps we have not. Certainly the government has gambled that we have not. They are still wildly advertising the benifits of their particular brand of ‘Security’. We are bombarded with offers of terror security, financial security, even weather security, and latest and best “Astroid security”. Why else would all these ‘threats’ be trumpeted from the halls of power if not to get people to buy into financing the remedies. Face it my freinds; Every time we buy into combating one of these ‘threats to security’, we grant more power to whatever group is offering us a solution. There is no ‘security’! Our very existence is an improbable outcome. Why should any mere mortal or collection thereof, claim to be able to guarantee our continued existence.

    Life is uncertainty, let us atleast live it with some small pride.

  28. maximus

    I have seen and had ENOUGH failure from the progressive side of politics. I want progressives to succeed. We cannot play nice with conservatives. I save my compassion for the poor, the working man and woman, the unemployed, the retired elderly and disabled and the disenfranchised.

    This failure comes from the REFUSAL to use consumer boycotts against conservatives and their friends by progressives suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. In fact I now refuse to help so called progressive organizations that will not boycott the friends of conservatives in order to put pressure on the conservatives to do as we demand.

    I do not have compassion for bull headed conservatives bent on ruining other people’s lives.

    The way we do not play nice involves what Gandhi would do, namely shun those and their friends who seek to ruin other people’s lives. I did not originate boycotts but I appear new in adapting the boycott to political and legislative outcomes.

    I have created a new liberal legislative political party: The Liberal Democratic Party of the United States.

    We do not raise money.

    We do not handle money.

    We do not break up your Party. You remain in your own chosen party for the purpose of elections but you also join mine for the purpose of getting needed legislation and political action.

    We tell you how not to spend your money and get legislation for
    not spending money with well known conservative contributors.

    It costs nothing to join this party but some of your day
    sending these emails and getting many others to send these emails.

    We can get progressive legislation with a new strategy.

    Please pass this email to your friends as soon as possible. Thank you.

    Instead of petitioning a corporate corrupted congress for legislation, petition the corporate friends of conservatives in both the GOPranos aka the RepubliKLAN Party and the Democratic party for legislation and include a boycott threat in your email petitions as you see below. Spread the word please.

    You can find the full list of emails here


    also join this facebook group


    1. Paul Repstock

      Max: Unless you plan on instituting ‘Direct Democracy’, your movement will fail. Mired in the same partisan loop we have been in forever.

      Direct Democracy has been vilified and sabotaged by every part of the body politic and by all of the vested interest with good reason. There is little room for personal advantage in a structure where the “Rule of Error” is the supreme determinant. There is one nation which approximates that process very quietly (The Swiss do not want to be nuked out of existence). However, in their ‘quiet way’, they seem to have been very sucessfull. Perhaps the DotCom bubble attack on California was as much because of the politics as because of the wealth shift. Or perhaps certain powers saw those two as synonymous??

  29. soloduff

    Sloppy reasoning by Smith & Co.: To argue that protest sometimes “works” is irrelevant. The point is rather whether those being urged to protest in fact display the moral and intellectual capacity for anything of collective human worth, progressive political struggle being the capacity of note. Those of us with more political judgment than either hope or rage perceive the utter worthlessness of the American public in this regard. This is the same gaggle of politically lobotomized consumers who slept through the trashing of the US Constitution–Bush v. Gore and the Iraq war being just two examples–and now the most visible grassroots protest is entirely regressive, i.e., the protofascist Tea Party movement. There is a time to lose. Smith et al. need to drop their American Exceptionalism and admit that terminal political degeneration is the most likely prospect for the USA.

    1. Paul Repstock

      Paul Repstock grovels at the feet of the moral and intelectual superiority of “soloduff”, who though we don’t know his real name obviously waged a sucessful campaign to prevent all of the abuses mentioned.

      It is really sad to see sophistication used as the primary excuse for abdication of responsibility.

    2. Paul Tioxon

      You are either a caricature of a pseudo-intellectual or some other variant of the failed artist ineptly masquerading as a human being. Your contempt, your visceral misanthropy is the stuff of banal lessons from history. My only hope is that I never happen upon your dental practice is some dire time of aching need.

      1. soloduff

        To the two Pauls too: Ad hominem is no substitute for reasoning. “Dogs bark at what they don’t know.” –Heraclitus of Ephesus

      2. soloduff

        Reply to Repstock and Tioxin, the two Pauls: Ad hominem is no substitute for reasoning. And it is childish to attempt to hurt others with invective. “Dogs bark at what they don’t know.” –Heraclitus of Ephesus

  30. Birch

    There is another very important aspect of apathy, designed to prevent people from protesting, and it falls under the general term ‘drugs’.

    By keeping the portion of the population that is most likely to protest abuses against them hooked serious drugs, their energies will be diverted away from protest and promoting change. Heroin and prozac are equally effective for this. Depressed because the bankers are sodomizing you? Take these pills, you’ll be fine. Lost your job, house, family, and life? Life on the street in painless with this powder.

    The Taliban stopped all opium production in Afganistan one year before the U.S. attacked. A couple months after the U.S. attacks, opium production resumed and increased dramatically. Now Afganistan produces about 95% of the world’s opium! I friend of mine fought in central america years ago in the “war on drugs.” When his buddy was killed he opened up the body bag to say goodbye before it was shipped home, and found the body bag stuffed with hard drugs!!!

    Discontent used to be something to struggle against. Now it’s something to medicate. The U.S. regime is COMPLETELY DEPENDENT on “illegal” hard drugs and pharmapseuticals for its existence. In the 60s, rich kids were dropping LSD and having grand introspective trips that made them ask “what am I, and why am I a part of this horrible system? How can I not contribute to this evil?” Now you can’t even buy clean LSD on the black market, yet coke, meth, oxycot, and a myriad of antidepressants are readily available in almost any town or city. Doctors are eager to prescibe what might be better temed ‘antidisident’ drugs to anyone they can conjure up a mental problem for.

    Protest and non-participation are two of the few tools we have to protect ourselves from the plutocrats. Thank you, Yves, for brining the issue up. An awareness of the role that these drugs play in political and social apathy is an important part of the discussion.

  31. Birch

    There is another very important aspect of apathy, designed to prevent people from protesting, and it falls under the general term ‘drugs’.

    By keeping the portion of the population that is most likely to protest abuses against them hooked serious drugs, their energies will be diverted away from protest and promoting change. Heroin and prozac are equally effective for this. Depressed because the bankers are sodomizing you? Take these pills, you’ll be fine. Lost your job, house, family, and life? Life on the street in painless with this powder.

    The Taliban stopped all opium production in Afganistan one year before the U.S. attacked. A couple months after the U.S. attacks, opium production resumed and increased dramatically. Now Afganistan produces about 95% of the world’s opium! I friend of mine fought in central america years ago in the “war on drugs.” When his buddy was killed he opened up the body bag to say goodbye before it was shipped home, and found the body bag stuffed with hard drugs!!!

    Discontent used to be something to struggle against. Now it’s something to medicate. The U.S. regime is COMPLETELY DEPENDENT on “illegal” hard drugs and pharmapseuticals for its existence. In the 60s, rich kids were dropping LSD and having grand introspective trips that made them ask “what am I, and why am I a part of this horrible system? How can I not contribute to this evil?” Now you can’t even buy clean LSD on the black market, yet coke, meth, oxycot, and a myriad of antidepressants are readily available in almost any town or city. Doctors are eager to prescibe what might be better temed ‘antidisident’ drugs to anyone they can conjure up a mental problem for.

    Protest and non-participation are two of the few tools we have to protect ourselves from the plutocrats. Thank you, Yves, for brining the issue up. An awareness of the role that these drugs play in political and social apathy is an important part of the discussion.

    I think the best option we have now is a massive general strike. Check out the Winnipeg General Strike 1919 if you don’t know about it. Even the police joined in. Always remeber that no elite can exist without its minions – no business can exist without its employees. The lowest class has the greatest power, but only if it chooses to use it.

    Probably the most rapid road to change would be to cut the drug supply lines into the U.S.

  32. Robspierre

    I was a frequent victim of bullies in boyhood–tall, gangly, myopic, unathletic. I would fight back against bigger, older, meaner kids and get absolutely creamed. But, eventually, I noticed that I never seemed to have to fight the same kid more than once. That’s when I learned the secret: the point of fighting bullies is not to win; it’s to hurt the other guy. He fears being hurt more than you do. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be a bully. This radically changes the balance of power in such situations.

    The effectiveness of resistance to the banks should likewise never be measured by its material effect on the banks–there won’t be any. But resistance can disproportionately affect a corporation’s sense of safety and well-being. It is more sensitive than we are. When one values money more than anything else, one feels the loss of a dollar more than an ordinary person would. So costing a bank even an insignificant sum is worth doing.

  33. Jim

    In the early to mid-1960s both the Civil Rights movement and the anti-war movement were demanding that the then existing system of power live up to its proclaimed principles of democratic participation, tolerance and value pluralism. This was primarily a call to make government more “responsible” and “accountable” without really challenging the underlying structural conditions, such as increasing centralization and bureacratization, which were contributing to an accelerating social disintegration.

    In 2010 it seems quite likely that we have formally moved to a post-democratic market-state(the fusion of economics and politics) where institutions of representative democracy remain in place but popular democratic initiative is dying out. The centralized state and the “free market” now collude together to rule over us ( a structural process which has slowly emerged and consolidated its strength over the past 130 years of American history).

    How do we gain true independence from this post-democratic market-state?

    Does the logic of this new structure of power penetrate our very beings determining even our thinking and strategies for political realignment and restructuring?

    Does a new path to independence and freedom require personal transformation as well as societal transformation?
    If so, how does this happen?

    1. Paul Repstock

      LOL, Jim, You are participating in this “personal transformation”. I call it ‘Evolution’, most people call it the internet, governments call it sedition. My fondest hope is for it’s successful procecution.

      Do not expect the changes to be painless. There will be attacks of varying degrees from all sides. Entropy is the dominant natural force, every aspect conspires against change. The best intentioned people resisting the oppresion of the Elitist Cabal will fall wounded because they cannot bear to see the collateral damage caused by the upheavals required to allow change. The only thing we can hope to maintain is our humanity. If we can do that the changes will be positive.

      These pains will be felt in every nation. Many are even more in need of a reset than the United States. One aspect in our favor is that many national governments are as disenchanted with the actions of the US as are the bulk of people posting here.

  34. Eclaire

    Thanks, Yves, for Johann Hari’s piece. Commenters’ views are, as usual, fascinating and illuminating. A couple of points I want to bring up:

    First, many commenters state that protest is useless, why bother, we can’t change anything, anyway. There is a reason why the early church chose “Despair” as one of the 7 Deadly Sins. It’s a subset of “Sloth”, the inability to act or even to imagine. Submit to “Despair” and you lose the will for dreams or for action. In fact, you will never attain any of the 7 Cardinal Virtues, much less reform a broken system.

    Despair is also a handy weapon that those who are averse to change can use to keep their opponents acquiescent.

    Second, an earlier commenter feels that protest will result in unpleasant penalties for the protester, due the government now possessing greater powers for repression. News Flash! The government has always been able to crack down on protesters and has availed itself of that power numerous times.

    The Irish Draft Riots during the Civil War, the Ludlow Massacre during the coal miners’ strike in Colorado, women agitating for the right to vote being thrown in jail and force-fed, Black children being knocked to the ground by high pressure fire hoses – all are examples of the State using force (often at the behest of powerful corporations) to attempt to dissuade citizens from bettering their economic status or gaining certain rights they had been denied. The examples would go on for pages.

    This country’s history is a litany of powerless groups fighting against repression and ignorance and greed for a little bigger piece of that dream that is America. They knew exactly what they wanted: the right to vote, safer working conditions, access to equal education. They didn’t succumb to despair and they were willing to suffer the consequences of their actions.

    They knew from experience the meaning of the axiom: Power is a zero sum game. Those with the power do not give up even a small piece of it willingly.

  35. leroguetradeur

    Protest can of course be productive and successful in a democracy, but we have to understand why. The reason is, it can mobilize opinion which then has effects on voting. Direct action, in the sense of crashing banks or seizure of power by self selected radical groups, is not going to be productive. It will not produce a regime under which any sensible person will want to live. What will be productive will be things that change voting behavior.

    In systems where there is in effect no voting, as in the former Soviet Bloc regimes, when the regime starts to lose any sense of legitimacy and is corroding from within, then protests also can have significant effects. Once more, not by direct action, but by making clear to a regime that it has lost confidence and legitimacy – confirming something that it already half knows.

    So it has a role. However, people with a romantic infatuation with revolutionary violence, probably because they have never actually seen it, generally take a Trotskyite line and see the protests as a decisive step in the demolition of a regime and the installation of a revolutionary (ie unelected) new one. This is mistaken.

    I have to say, I have far more faith in America and the Constitution than almost anyone here. It has survived two centuries, it took the best of the evolving English system of checks and balances, and its proven robust in handling very severe conflicts and bringing the people through them in the end. If it could deal with slavery and civil war, and hold Presidential elections in the middle of a civil war, it will come through the present crisis. It can work for you and it will work for you, if you use it.

    When you have that, advocating revolutionary violence is like a man refusing to dig with the spade that he has to hand, instead insisting on using an axe or a crowbar. You already have what you need, it was made for the purpose, so use it.

    1. DownSouth

      Leroguetradeur said: “Direct action, in the sense of crashing banks or seizure of power by self selected radical groups, is not going to be productive.” …. “…advocating revolutionary violence is like a man refusing to dig with the spade that he has to hand, instead insisting on using an axe or a crowbar.”

      There you go with your straw-man argument again.

      Who, except you, has said anything about “seizure of power by self selected radical groups” or “advocating revolutionary violence”? But of course it is necessary to brand anyone who threatens the current corrupt regime as a violent threat to peace and order, no? As Rienhold Niebuhr explains:

      Both the temper and the method of non-violence yield another very important advantage in social conflict. They rob the opponent of the moral conceit by which he identifies his interests with the peace and order of society. This is the most important of all the imponderables in a social struggle. It is the one which gives an entrenched and dominant group the clearest and the least justified advantage over those who are attacking the status quo. The latter are placed in the category of enemies of public order, of criminals and inciters to violence and the neutral community is invariably arrayed against them. The temper and the method of non-violence destroys the plausibility of this moral conceit of the entrenched interests. If the non-violent campaign actually threatens and imperils existing arrangements the charge of treason and violence will be made against it none-the less. But it will not confuse the neutral elements in a community so easily.
      –Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man & Immoral Society

      Man, did Niebuhr ever peg you (in the passage I emphasized in bold).

      And who said any of this is risk free? As Niebuhr observes, “Since it is impossible to count on enough moral goodwill among those who possess irresponsible power to sacrifice it for the good of the whole, it must be destroyed by coercive methods and these will always run the peril of introducing new forms of injustice in place of those abolished.” “The question which confronts society is,” Niebuhr continues, “how can it eliminate social injustice by methods which offer some fair opportunity of abolishing what is evil in our present society, without destroying what is worth preserving in it, and without running the risk of substituting new abuses and injustices in the place of those abolished.”

      But nobody, including you I suspect, is so naïve to believe that social justice can be achieved by officially sanctioned channels, like voting, as you assert. “In my humble opinion,” Gandhi declared, “the ordinary methods of agitation by way of petitions, deputations, and the like is no longer a remedy for moving to repentance a government so hopelessly indifferent to the welfare of its charge as the Government of India has proved to be.”

      Ironically, the Tory ideal of a passive, compliant and lobotomized population that you idolize is perhaps the fastest train to the very sort of violent regime you claim to deplore. When the status quo becomes so corrupt that it loses legitimacy, and legitimacy cannot be restored through what Niebuhr called “political force” (which includes labor unions, Gandhi/MLK style nonviolence, etc.), it opens the door to violent insurgencies. As Hannah Arendt points out in Crises of the Republic, this is what happened on university campuses in the 60s when the student movement, which started out nonviolent, turned violent:

      To claim, as is often done, that a tiny unarmed minority has successfully, by means of violence—-shouting, kicking up a row, et cetera—-disrupted large lecture classes whose overwhelming majority had voted for normal instruction procedures is therefore very misleading. (In a recent case at some German university there was even one lonely “dissenter” among several hundred students who could claim such a strange victory.) What actually happens in such cases is something much more serious: the majority clearly refuses to use its power and overpower the disrupters; the academic processes break down because no one is willing to raise more than a voting finger for the status quo. What the universities are up against is the “immense negative unity” of which Stephen Spender speaks in another context. All of which proves only that a minority can have a much greater potential power than one would expect by counting noses in public-opinion polls.

      And as Jonathan Schell points out in The Unconquerable World, this is the same phenomenon that led to the rise of the Jacobins in France, the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Nazis in Germany. In each case, when the existing regime completely crumbled from within due to its own ubiquitous immorality, violent minorities rose to power because a non-vigilant majority, so thoroughly conditioned in the sort of obeisance you venerate, sat idly by and did nothing. As Arendt explains: “The merely onlooking majority, amused by the spectacle of a shouting match between student and professor, is in fact already the latent ally of the minority.”

      What is currently happening in Mexico is a case study of this very same phenomenon. If Mexico’s neoliberal government had even a scintilla of legitimacy, it would be impossible for the narco-insurgency to operate as it does.

      So we see the same pattern repeated over and over and over again: a government that seeks to re-establish peace by the use of force rather than by eliminating the causes of disaffection ends in disaster. And as Niebuhr points out, the use of force by the status quo is frequently not overt. “The coercive elements are covert,” Niebuhr explicates, “because dominant groups are able to avail themselves of the use of economic power, propaganda, the traditional purposes of government, and other types of non-violent power.” “By failing to recognize the real character of these forms of coercion,” Niebuhr continues, a defender of the status quo “places an unjustified moral onus upon advancing groups which use violent methods to disturb a peace maintained by subtler types of coercion.” Nor is our defender of the status quo “likely to understand the desire to break the peace, because he does not fully recognize the injustices which it hides… A too uncritical glorification of co-operation and mutuality therefore results in the acceptance of traditional injustices and the preference of the subtler types of coercion to the more overt types.”

      1. Eclaire

        Oh, DownSouth, I love it when someone captures the thoughts that are floundering about in my brain and expresses them ever so much more eloquently than I ever could.

        ” When the status quo becomes so corrupt that it loses legitimacy, and legitimacy cannot be restored through what Niebuhr called “political force” (which includes labor unions, Gandhi/MLK style nonviolence, etc.), it opens the door to violent insurgencies.”

        I can see in the Tea Party the seeds of violence. It attracts many who need only a minor trigger to erupt into fury.

  36. purple

    Because protesting worked so well in stopping the Iraq War. The largest and most global protest movement in human history.

    Liberal Reformism is dead in the U.S – as Chris Hedges as often written – so yes, protesting is futile and people know it.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      It certainly looks like you only read the headline and didn’t bother reading the post (or the comments).

      1. Were you not paying attention? The millions protesting were outside the US! Tell me exactly what impact that is going to have on the US government? Zero. Pathetically, there was not much in the way of protests in America.

      2. As the article makes abundantly clear, and Richard Kline’s introductory comment even more so, protest NEVER looks like having one go at it and the other side caving. Your assumption that (even if it had happened) one day of large scale protests in the US would have made a difference is wrong. Now had we had significant protests before and during the war (and past the phony “Mission Accomplished” phase), then we’d be talking about meaningful pushback. You have completely unrealistic expectations about the process and how results come about.

  37. emca

    A little late, but I’ll add this comment from another for what its worth.

    The poster is responding to comment that U.S. military control of the Press since Iraq I is like Russia:


    “except in Russia, the people know full well that the official press version of things is not reality. No one believes what they are told, they expect to be lied to. Only a tiny fraction – mostly old ladies and dumbass skinhead kids – believe what the government tells them. Maybe its because Americans have had it easy for so long that we automatically believe whatever anyone tells us as long as it jives with what we already want to hear, oh one more thing, in Russia they certainly don’t have the same cry-baby attitude. Almost all protests here end in everybody being arrested because you have to get permission from the govt to protest, but they do it anyway because they believe in freedom and they are willing to fight for it. What are Americans willing to fight for? The “freedom” to disenfranchise our brothers and sisters and even ourselves so we can keep serving the interests of the ultra wealthy. Disgusting”

  38. David

    I read somewhere online that some researchers have done a study where they “quantitatively worked” out the effectiveness of protests as measured by legislation. I recall the results being that legislation on a social issue occurred 10% of the time when there were protests, and only 1% of the time when there were no protests. Does anyone know where this came from ? Of course protests can have other effects as the Hari article makes clear

  39. Scott

    Could it be that the “fatalists” are merely at stage 4?

    From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kübler-Ross_model:

    1. Denial – “I feel fine.”; “This can’t be happening, not to me.”
    Denial is usually only a temporary defense for the individual. This feeling is generally replaced with heightened awareness of positions and individuals that will be left behind after death.
    2. Anger – “Why me? It’s not fair!”; “How can this happen to me?”; “Who is to blame?”
    Once in the second stage, the individual recognizes that denial cannot continue. Because of anger, the person is very difficult to care for due to misplaced feelings of rage and envy. Any individual that symbolizes life or energy is subject to projected resentment and jealousy.
    3. Bargaining – “Just let me live to see my children graduate.”; “I’ll do anything for a few more years.”; “I will give my life savings if…”
    The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay death. Usually, the negotiation for an extended life is made with a higher power in exchange for a reformed lifestyle. Psychologically, the individual is saying, “I understand I will die, but if I could just have more time…”
    4. Depression – “I’m so sad, why bother with anything?”; “I’m going to die… What’s the point?”; “I miss my loved one, why go on?”
    During the fourth stage, the dying person begins to understand the certainty of death. Because of this, the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the dying person to disconnect oneself from things of love and affection. It is not recommended to attempt to cheer up an individual who is in this stage. It is an important time for grieving that must be processed.
    5. Acceptance – “It’s going to be okay.”; “I can’t fight it, I may as well prepare for it.”
    In this last stage, the individual begins to come to terms with his mortality or that of his loved one.

  40. Kaleberg

    The first successful protest in this form was in the fight against slavery and the slave trade in Britain which culminated with the outlawing of the slave trade and British actions against it. There’s a good book on it, Bury the Chains. It’s a wretched tale though.

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